The scary private bus...

The roadway public transporation scene in Kerala - the southern-most state in India - is controlled mostly by Private operators. According to anecdotal figures, there are over 30,000 private buses operating on scheduled routes as of today. Private buses make up more than 75% of the public transport system, with the state-run KSRTC operating only about 5,000 buses as of today. While KSRTC handles most of the long intra-state and inter-state routes, private buses were restricted to shorter routes around smaller towns and villages.

The scene changed a while back with private buses too operating on ultra-long routes within the state. Private buses taken longer routes to circumvent operational restrictions. Private stage carriages are not permitted to operate on routes notified as "nationalised" routes. Earlier restrictions only implied that they could not run more than a specified distance on such routes, and to avoid such problems, they run for some distance through smaller roads. New restrictions imposed recently make even these operations impossible.

A Private bus driver exhibiting his overtaking style...

Private bus operators are mostly single bus owners, and there are quite a few fleet operators. Roads in Kerala are normally narrow, with very little breathing space to move side-ways. Tight operating schedules, and narrow time-gap between two buses result in buses running at break-neck speed through these routes. An over enthusiastic focus on earning more per trip also result in crew trying their level best to avoid a following bus overtaking it or even letting it come close. The crew are always in a hurry to get the bus run, while also trying to get in maximum passengers.

These operators are also known to open niche routes, which were later encroached upon by KSRTC. Some operators are known for their quality of service, punctuality and good bus maintenance. One such operator in my part of the state is KK Menon. These operators are known to stick to the schedule, and their staff are well behaved. Overall, private bus crew are known to be rude and often uncivilised in behaviour. Typical private buses have three to five crew manning it. There would be a driver, a conductor (city buses, often, have two), and a cleaner (or two). With higher number of staff associated with each bus, overspeeding (which ends up consuming a lot of fuel), the operating expenses associated with private buses are on the higher speed.

However, operators earn profit from these services - mainly by resorting to tactics like using Kerosene with fuel and replacing buses with mini-buses, which provide tax concessions. Regional Transport Authorities (the government body that controls route permits provided to operators to operate stage carriages) have taken note of this tendency, and have come down heavily on such downgrades recently. The authorities have consistently rejected applications to replace full size buses with mini buses.

City buses in Ernakulam and Kozhikode are operated almost entirely by private operators, while buses in Trivandrum City are monopolised by KSRTC. City buses (in both Ernakulam and Kozhikode) are known as killers on the prowl. Accidents are a daily story. Overspeeding and rash driving are known reasons for accidents, which end up risking innocent lives. As a person who spent more than 22 years of my life in places outside Kerala, I often get my heart missing beats very often while traveling on these buses or even seeing them run on the road. Private buses currently form the lifeline of most passengers in Kerala - in simple words, righteously, called Necessary Evil.

One of the many funky liveried buses now on roads in Kerala...

Private operators have monopolised themselves on many routes, with their flashy buses, with funky accessories and psychadelic paintings. The bus crew hire shouters in public places, who shout out the destination of the bus along with its route when the bus is at a public place - they are paid on the spot for the job they do. Most private buses in Kerala are known to not issue tickets to passengers for the fare tendered. In some cases, unnumbered tickets, or small chits with some random numbers on it, are issued to passengers. Non-issuance of tickets is in strict contravention of Section 72, of Motor Vehicles Act 1988. The law clearly states that (only relevant portions are below)

(2) The Regional Transport Authority, if it decides to grant a stage carriage permit, may grant the permit for a stage carriage of a specified description and may, subject to any rule that may be made under this Act, attach to the permit any one or more of the following conditions, namely:-

(xv) that tickets bearing specified particulars shall be issued to passengers and shall show the fares actually charged and that records of tickets issued shall be kept in a specified manner;

Here are some interesting titbits that I gathered over the past few of travel on some of these private bus operators: About two weeks back, I was on a journey from my home town in Thrissur district, to the district headquarters in a bus operated by a very reputed local operator. The bus was a couple of minutes late compared to its schedule. The cleaner was getting restless by the second, and was talking to the conductor continuously. He was constantly worried about the bus getting late and was blaming the driver for driving it like a bullock cart. Later the conductor started mocking at him and it turned out that the bus had made up most of the lost time by the time I alighted.

Crew are paid a collection allowance, which is basically a percentage of the total collections. Therefore, higher the collections, more the take home salary the crew gets. However, lesser collections would result in an unwarranted confrontation with the bus operator, who may even sack the crew for the dip in collection. Rampant corruption among controlling bodies had resulted in buses running at a n interval of under 2-3 minutes on many routes (this is now history on most routes). Such low intervals among two consecutive buses result in drivers remaining on tenterhooks, to ensure that the bus following them does not go ahead.

A bus operated by KK Menon, a reputed bus operator in Thrissur District, on the Kodungallur-Thrissur route...

In addition to a closely following bus, the drivers are also under constant pressure to stick to their schedule, despite all odds and frequent stops. Road conditions and traffic also contribute to their miseries. To make matters worse, many buses are operated by inexperienced people who end up being unable to control the bus once the speed increases. Although there exists a government rule that all buses should be installed with speed limiting devices (that limit speed to 60kmph), most buses are operated in violation of this rule and on most occasions, these buses run at much higher speeds.

The moment these buses stop, the crew pressurise passengers to get off the bus at the earliest, while also shouting out at other passengers to jump in quickly, so that they could fly away. Quite a few earlier posts on this blog had described the F1 styled driving of private bus drivers down south in this state - often acclaimed as God's Own Country. While Private operators provide a much needed competition to state-run services (which could improve the quality of service), uncontrolled expansion of private operators have resulted in a situation that risks the lives of passengers.

The Government should work out on measures to cartelise operators into co-operative societies or perhaps support fleet operators. An operator with a high number of buses has many advantages in terms of sharing staff, common inventory of spares, government concessions on tax for purchasing spare buses and also lesser support staff. Currently, private operators end up having a cleaner for each bus, while a major operator can go with just one or two cleaners. The number of staff per bus could be brought down by increasing the number of buses under each roof. Cartelisation would also reduce competition between buses, which could reduce accidents on roads. Instead of allowing only one cartel to operate on a said route, the government could allow, say, two bodies on each route. This would be fair competition.

A co-operative body formed by current bus operators, which I beleive currently exists on some places in Idukki/Kottayam, would help current operators in a lot of ways. They can share staff, spares, buses, and even overhead expenses like ticket printing. A co-operative body will also provide equal exposure and opportunities to current operators, who could become stakeholders of the said society. Although nationalisation (i.e., reserving all routes for the state run KSRTC) is a good move to control road accidents resulting from rash driving by bus operators, it would take ages for the government to replace the 35,000 buses (government records show that about 17,000 buses would be immediately affected due to the latest order for nationalisation) with its buses.

The government could take a stake in district wise co-operative bodies in exchange to allowing such bodies on nationalised routes. These bodies could also provide healthy competition to KSRTC. While the government continues to sleep on the nationalisation order, let me continue my life, rather fearing for it, as I continue traveling on private buses for my local commute.... more local titbits coming soon...


Anonymous said…
Dear Friend,

Being a KDLR resident I too suffered from Pvt buses in KDLR-TCR, KDLR-GVR-PRR-EKM routes. Anyway I like the pvt buses though. I like ur blog also

Nazeer, UAE
Anonymous said…
in perumbavoor,moovattupuzha,kothamangalam and in other places in kottayam/idukki ,they have bus operators association owned spare parts shops.
Swarag Motors,Sangamam,Prakash Motors(still operating),Roadlines,PPK&Sons(still IB),Robin(still ON),PMS,Shivaram,KMS,Kondody,Kalloor,Oppol(means sister),Kumkumam etc were the major operators some 30 to 60 years ago in My part of the state - North Travancore.Early Buses were mostly small with Engine bay in front like lorries.They are Bedford,Dodge,Benz,Chevrolet Buses which were running on Petrol.(heard that buses which run on coal was there very long back).These buses were risky of catching fire too.British Leyland Buses came during 1960s in Kerala- Few Years after it was the norm in Madras city.During that time cochin was not connected to other parts like today.Aluva was the bigger town and business centre as what I heard.While in south,Alappuzha was the main centre.

The Buses from Roadlines,Robin,KMS were built by TVS(Metallic body) .Most Big PVT Bus operators in Travancore region are now extinct or very small in no. of operations.
like KK Menon , Kalappurackal Motor Service(KMS) was a Monopoly on Meenachil-Kanjirappally region.(You can spot their buses in cochin kaloor stand due to the natioanl tri-color flag drawn all around the bus).KMS had around 32 Buses Plying from Pala-ponkunnam-Kanjirappally-pambavally-Ernakulam etc.
Prakash Motors also was a famous operator whose body color looks almost 90% same as 1970's KSRTC Bus Painting Scheme.Prakash Motors has around 28-30 buses and NOW- only 5 buses :( .Kind of Nostalgic remembering the Old BRITISH LEYLAND BUSES from the past with a admirable Noise(I am a fan of the sound).nice cover the part about old buses especially british leyland.
Anonymous said…
In kottayam kondody motors is the largest operator.They are also customer friendly .They have a monopoly in kottayam -kattapana,kumily routes.They have express bus in kottayam kumily route and fast passenger in kumily eranakulam route.kondodys ,st thomas are also from same group. We can see rash driving of buses in kottayam eranakulam route.The timing between buses are less ,frequent accidents are happening in this route.In this route mariya travels ,priyadarshini,padiyath,poornasree,andrew etc are some major operators.
Anonymous said…
some major bus services mundakayam-eranakulam route(gurudev travels l s ,st johns travels l s ,kms express ) eratupetta-pala-eranakulam(st george motors l s ,csk l s, ptms l s,robin express)kumily -eranakulam(ufo, kondodys,pournami) pathanamtitta -eranakulam (saranya motors) . peters(indikuzhiyil travels), cheriyan motors,sonia travels,puthenkandathil,holy family,ufo travels etc are major malabar operators in kottayam.largest town bus service in kottayam is operated by ponmakal travels in kottayam -ettumanoor.other major operators in kottayam are ptms,kms,robin,kalloor motors,kallooparambil,saranya,midland motors ,st marys, cms,mubarak,marygiri,ansu,st alphonsa,jesseena,devamatha,pinky,karakattu travels,thekkeveetil travels etc are few them..
Anonymous said…
In North kerala KNR , the major private bus operators are Geetha , Shajee motors, haridas transport , lakshmi trasport , rinku travels ,parassini motors , akbs ets whose buses are running for more than 40 yrs ,
sam said…
Dear friends,
I hail from a small town called mala in the District of Thrissur.
the main bus routs from mala are

these bus routs have special busses since long back.
like for irinjalakuda its S.N transport,etc
for chalakudy its Payyapilly,etc

these guys drive so cool and smooth but.... but... but..
once they loose a minute or see an other bus commin up from back then you better hold on for your life or your dead meat....
they are worst than mud racers id say.
if the driver does not see a way to get past the bus in front then he makes his own way... thats the way....
but now im working in chennai, ,,,
when i see the bus driver driving here i think its better in kerala...
no no no they dont speed much but.. if they get a gap for a cycle to go through the driver takes the damn bus in to it... atlast... there is a huge traffic jam...
living to face it.
ഇമ്മട തൃശൂര്‍ കൊടുങ്ങല്ലോര്‍ ബസ്സിന്റ പെട സ്പീഡ് ഇപ്പളും ഒരു കൊരവും ഇല്ല അല്ലെ